Gorgeous Time-Lapse Video of the Night Sky over the La Palma Volcano

The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 26 2012 11:16 AM

Time-Lapse Video: Island in the Sky

Still from the video "Island in the Sky" by Christoph Malin
Moon setting over the the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma, from Island in the Sky.

Image credit: Bobak Tafreshi

One thing I love to do here at BA HQ is feature beautiful, time-lapse videos of the night sky. The advent of high-definition digital cameras has led to an explosion of these videos. If the photographer takes care, the result can be an ethereally lovely and (ironically) other-worldly feel to the animation.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

My pal Christoph Malin is one such photographer. He is a member of The World At Night, a global effort to make more people aware of the beauty of the night sky. Over the past year and a half, he’s been traveling to the volcano island of La Palma, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco, filming the landscape and skyscape there. He generated over a terabyte of raw images (!!) and put them together to create this gorgeous time lapse video, Island in the Sky.

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[Make sure it’s set to HD and make it full screen.]

La Palma is an amazing place. I attended an astronomy meeting there back in 1998 (my word, was it that long ago?) and was overwhelmed by its beauty. The Canaries are a volcanic island chain almost exactly like Hawaii, but in the eastern Atlantic. La Palma is a teardrop-shaped island with a few volcanoes on it, dominated by the Caldera de Taburiente, an enormous caldera about 9 kilometers (6 miles) across. It also has a huge wedge missing from the side where the caldera collapsed hundreds of thousands of years ago, dumping several cubic kilometers of rock into the sea in a catastrophic—I daresay apocalyptic— landslide. Standing on that island and looking out over it is life-changing.

Watching Christoph’s video brought me right back. It features several of the domes and telescopes of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, which sits on the lip of the volcanic crater and is one of the world’s premier astronomical sites. Right from the start, with the crescent Moon setting into the red clouds, you get a sense of how unearthly the island is. The clouds flow like ocean waves to the hills, but the top of the volcano is above most of it, and when the skies darken, well, it’s magical. The city of Santa Cruz is small enough that light pollution is minimal, so the sky is very dark at the crater rim.

Some things to look out for in the video are the Milky Way—the galaxy in which we live—rising majestically into the sky, the combined light of billions of stars forming a flat line and bulging central core. I never get tired of seeing that! Also, at about 4:10 you can see clouds rolling over a ridge like a wave that never quite crashes, and then a few seconds later a distant lightning storm flashing. In fact, as gorgeous as the sky is, I think perhaps the terrestrial weather steals this video; the shots of clouds lit from below by the city lights and streaming like a dream across the frame are simply wonderful.

Every now and again I’ll post time-lapse videos like this one (stay tuned, in fact, for another coming up very soon), and I hope you can take a few minutes out of what is no doubt your busy life to just sit back and soak up the natural beauty of our planet and that of the Universe around it.

Tip o’ the lens cap to Christoph Malin himself for letting me know about this video. He has fine art prints of frames from the video online as well.

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